From where I’m sitting, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have accomplished one thing this season. They’ve shown that they have 3 quarterbacks who can make plays and that they have a defense that is a shadow of its former self. The offense has hardly been lights out this season, but when you consider that the offensive coordinator was fired at the start of the season, that the team has a new head coach, that the starting QB was determined at the end of pre-season, and that two of the QB’s who’ve started this season are new to town, you simply cannot have high expectations. As I’ve said, Byron Leftwich was not the reason the Buccaneers were not winning games at the beginning of the season. They were losing for the same reasons they lost prior to last week: a profound inability to stop the run.
When Leftwich was benched, he was 6th in passing yards in the NFL. Guess who is 6th in passing yards right now? Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers have won five in a row.
Leftwich performed well in relief of Roethlisberger last year. Given that Antonio Bryant has played hurt for the entire season, that Michael Clayton is somewhere between Chris Chambers and Chris Henry, and that the Bucs don’t have a reliable deep threat, Leftwich did a credible job. The same can be said for Josh Johnson — except that he was compelled to play against teams like New England (#3 pass defense) and Carolina (#5 pass defense) and Philadelphia (#2 with 15 INTs) and Washington (#1 pass defense). Forget that Leftwich scored 21 points against Dallas and threw for nearly 300 yards vs. Buffalo. Forget that Josh Johnson fought hard against some of the best defenses in the league.
This season has been about one thing and one thing only. The “joined at the hip” relationship between former Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman and former Kansas State defensive coordinator Raheem Morris. The fate of one is going to determine the fate of the other. I could be wrong about this, but I think Morris has decided (and rightfully so) that the 2009 season isn’t about making a playoff run. The team has too much to fix. Instead, the 2009 season was about figuring out the best time and place for Josh Freeman to show and prove why he was drafted in the Doug Williams slot (Round 1, Pick 17). It wasn’t about throwing Freeman to the wolves, either. It may have been about sacrificing Byron Leftwich (an act that may have become easier to do after that 24-0 shutout at the hands of the Giants). It may have been about either showcasing Josh Johnson or establishing him as a solid #2 behind Freeman. Either way, Josh Freeman’s time is now.
If you want to know why he was drafted 17th overall, it’s all right here.
In Week 9 against the Green Bay Packers, the Bucs were trailing 14-7 toward the end of the first quarter. Tampa was facing a 3rd and 10 in their own territory. Green Bay had sent pressure on first and second down to force incompletions and had 9 men close to the line on 3rd down.
This is the type of down and distance that even veteran quarterbacks face with great difficulty. Freeman, though, was calm under pressure.
On this play, the Packers bring pressure right up the gut and force Freeman to decide if he will roll left or right.
With all of his wide receivers and Kellen Winslow headed down field, Freeman has two options.
One of Freeman’s options was to run and hope to outrun two Packers. His second, and best, option was to hit running back Derrick Ward who was wide open just behind the oncoming rush. Ward exploded through the Packer defense for 38 yards and a first down. It was the longest pass play of the day. It kept the chains moving and allowed the Bucs to plant a foundation for a surprising 38-28 win.
Perhaps Raheem Morris plays chess on his off days. Whatever he does, he appears to know exactly what he wants at quarterback — even after three bites at the apple.